Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Trinity River

Flashback Dallas in D Magazine: “The Trinity Bridge-Jumpers”

d-mag_lost-dallas-cover_mar-2018

by Paula Bosse

I was flattered to be asked to contribute something to the “Lost Dallas” issue of D Magazine (great stories and photos, by the way — it’s on newsstands now!). When asked for a topic that might be interesting or offbeat, I remembered a story I had come across a few years ago which I had always meant to write about: an 1897 event in which a professional diver and an amateur “jumper” crossed paths at the old Commerce Street Bridge in front of a crowd of several thousand. The thought of diving/jumping from a Dallas bridge into the Trinity River — unless it’s at flood-stage — is, frankly, something I would never have considered, but it happened. There is a short overview of the event in the print edition of the magazine, but my full version — “The 1897 Battle of the Trinity Bridge Jumpers” — is available to read online at D’s website, here.

I won’t repeat the story here, but for you faithful lovers of history who read the full story (and who sneer at the very concept of tl;dr), here are a few images and bits of background info to flesh out the story a bit.

WILSON & SEXTON

It all began with a small announcement in The Dallas Morning News:

bridge-jumper_wilson_dmn_031797DMN, March 17, 1897

No photographs of the main characters are available, but drawings of the two men were featured in the pages of The News on March 22, 1897. First, J. B. Wilson, the “professional” bridge-diver who traveled from town to town plying his trade. As the drawing below shows, Wilson personally walked through the large crowd in his special diving costume, carrying a cigar box, soliciting “donations” from the crowd (one man attempted to slip in a live water snake he had in his pocket — Wilson was not amused).

trinity-bridge-jumper_wilson_drawing

Secondly, the unexpected hero of the day, young Arch Sexton: candy-maker, thrill-seeker. Sexton had this to say of the drawing: “That was an excellent picture of me in The News this morning. The artist knows a good-looking man when he sees him” (DMN, March 23, 1897).

trinity-bridge-jumper_sexton_drawing

THE COMMERCE STREET BRIDGE

The centerpiece of this story is the old Commerce Street Bridge, built around 1890 (it weathered the great flood of 1908 and was eventually replaced by a new bridge in 1915). This was before the Trinity River had been straightened and moved. This is what the bridge looked like on a typical day:

commerce-street-bridge_legacies_fall-1995photo via Legacies

And, below, the course of the river in 1897. The jump would have happened only a couple of blocks from the Old Red Courthouse, very close to what is now the edge of Dealey Plaza.

map_1898_trinity-det_portal
1898 map detail, via Portal to Texas History

STEVE BRODIE

Lastly, because I started the D magazine article with a look at the idol of bridge-jumpers everywhere (and because of this guy bridge-jumping became a whole thing), I should mention Steve Brodie, the man who attained worldwide fame and became massively wealthy as a result of claiming to have jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886 (the first person to have done so and survived). His claim of having jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge was disputed from the very beginning, but charges of fakery did not affect his celebrity — in fact, it might even have sharpened his mastery of constant self-promotion (which, in turn, inspired thousands of copycat bridge-jumpers across the country who hoped to cash in on some of that sweet Brodie moolah). When he wasn’t entertaining legions of fans at his well-known Bowery saloon, he kept his name in the headlines by devising other (also disputed) feats of daredevilry, promoting prize fights, and even appearing onstage in a version of his life’s story (complete with a nightly reenactment of the famed bridge jump). Watch a short but informative video about him here.

brodie-business-card_1897

brodie-saloon_postcard

He was so famous that his name became a slang term: “took a Brodie” or “pulled a Brodie” meant “made a dangerous leap” or, more broadly, “took a chance.” Here’s a slang-filled cartoon from 1936 which featured the term fifty years after Brodie’s jump.

slang_do-a-brodie-1936-cartoon

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That’s the background. If you haven’t already, please mosey on over to D Magazine to read the full-length article I wrote about the Dallas bridge-jumpers of 1897! (And try to work “Steve Brodie” into a conversation today….)

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Sources & Notes

The main reason this story stuck with me was that the original Dallas Morning News report was so amusingly written. I have no idea who wrote it — he identified himself only as “the News’ marine reporter” — but I hope his literary talents led him to bigger and better gigs than an un-bylined newspaper writer scouring the Dallas docks for morsels of news. His sarcastically bemused reports on this long-forgotten exhibition of bridge-jumping (and the follow-ups) can be found in the following entertaining articles:

  • “A Tale of the Trinity: ‘High Diver’ Wilson and ‘High Jumper’ Sexton Split the River Wide Open; Steve Brodie Outdone” (DMN, March 22, 1897), here
  • “A Day With the Divers: The Marine Reporter of The News Passes a Few Hours In Haunts of Jolly Jack Tar” (DMN, March 23, 1897), here
  • “A Day With High Divers: A. B. Sexton and Nick M. Miller Created a Commotion In Marine Circles” (DMN, April 19, 1897), here

Thanks for the opportunity to share this odd tale, D Magazine! See all of the “Lost Dallas” articles (and photos) here.

All images are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Prelude to the Great Flood of 1908

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyerApril 20, 1908… (click for larger image) / SMU

by Paula Bosse

The greatest flood Dallas has ever known — the disastrous flood of 1908 (read about it here) — happened in the spring of 1908. The Trinity River reached its highest crest of more than 52 feet on May 26. The photo above was taken on April 20 — five weeks before that.

On April 20, 1908 — the day this photo was taken — The Dallas Morning News reported that after three weeks of rain the Trinity had finally crested at “nearly 39 feet.” This flooding was the worst in 20 years and the third worst on record.

In a mere five weeks, though, every record regarding the Trinity River and flooding in Dallas would be broken. Those people who had ventured out to survey the river from the Commerce Street Bridge that April day had no idea what was in store for them in just 35 days.

Let’s zoom in on this photo and look at some of the details of the crowd and the bridge (all images are larger when clicked).

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det1

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det2

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det3

Above: are refreshments being sold?

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det4

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det5

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det6

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det7

“NOTICE: $25.00 FINE FOR DRIVING FASTER THAN A WALK ACROSS THIS BRIDGE.”

commerce-st-bridge_1908_cook-degolyer-det8

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The editorial cartoon below appeared on the front page of The Fort Worth Telegram next to a story with the headline “Dallasites Flee Flooded Homes; River is Rising.”

flood_FWST_042008_help-them
FWT, April 20, 1908

In May, this photo (by Henry Clogenson) showing “Highest Water in the History of Dallas” appeared in The Dallas Morning News:

flood_dmn_052608_clogenson_commerce-st-bridge
DMN, May 26, 1908

Another photo by Clogenson:

trinity-river_flood_1908_LOC-lg

For comparison, here’s the bridge at a calmer time:

commerce-street-bridge_legacies_fall-1995

Flood memorabilia? Check out the book and stationery department at Sanger Bros.

flood_postcard-sales_dmn_060408_sangers-ad-detJune, 1908

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Sources & Notes

Top photo titled “Commerce St. Bridge, Trinity River, Dallas, Tex., April 20, 1908” from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; the photo and more information can be accessed here.

The wide-angle photo of the Commerce Street Bridge, taken by Henry Clogenson, is from the Library of Congress, here.

“Calmer” photo of the Commerce Street Bridge is from the Fall, 1995 issue of Legacies, from the article “Bridges Over the Trinity” by Mary Ellen Holt.

Read the Dallas Morning News article “Trinity Flood Crest Has Reached Dallas … Great Damage is Reported” (DMN, April 20, 1908) here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Forest Avenue-Area Flooding, South Dallas — 1935

flooding_forest-avenue_lloyd-long_052035_ebayBeyond the levees… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Sometimes the Trinity River is a puny little trickle, sometimes it’s a raging torrent. Here are aerial photos taken from around Forest Avenue (now MLK Blvd.) by Lloyd M. Long, showing the major flooding of May, 1935.

Here is the lead sentence from The Dallas Morning News, May 21, 1935 (the day after these photos were taken):

With sections of South Dallas inundated for the first time since the record 1908 flood, numerous bridges and highways and thousands of acres of lowlands hidden by its swirling, muddy currents, the roaring Trinity slowly was receding Monday night at Dallas after reaching a crest of 42.10 feet at 11 a.m. (DMN, May 21, 1935)

flooding-levee-district-from-forest-ave_lloyd-long_052035_ebay

There was great rejoicing that that the new-ish levees had held the waters and prevented the wide-scale flooding seen in 1922. But once you got to the Forest Avenue bridge (which ran below the Corinth St. viaduct and the Santa Fe railroad trestle), things got real bad real fast. In the photo above, the levee protection ends exactly at the railroad trestle — the Forest Avenue bridge is mostly underwater. The river above the trestle: a beautiful feat of engineering; below: water, water everywhere.

Below the Forest Ave. bridge where the levee protection ended, flood conditions were far worse than those created by the 1922 inundation. (DMN, May 21, 1935)

Again, sometimes the Trinity is just a trickle….

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Sources & Notes

Both photos (by Lloyd M. Long) are from 2017 eBay auctions: the top photo here, and the bottom photo here.

More on Dallas flooding can be found in these Flashback Dallas posts:

  • “The Nellie Maurine: When a Pleasure Boat Became a Rescue Craft During the Great Trinity River Flood of 1908,” here
  • “One of the Victims of the Great Trinity Flood: The T & P Railroad Trestle — 1908,” here
  • “The Trinity River at the City’s Doorstep,” here
  • “Cole Park Storm Water Detention Vault,” here

Maybe it’s just me, but I was really taken with that little L-shaped building in the top photo which was, briefly, its own island. What was it? It was part of the Guiberson Oil Well Specialty Corporation, founded in 1919 at 1000 Forest Avenue — the building seen in the photo was built in 1926. It’s still standing (here) and appears to be part of Faubion & Associates, a manufacturer of retail display cases and store fixtures.

Click photos to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The First Woman to Swim the Channel Helped Search the Trinity for Drowned Victims — 1927

swim-girl-swim_haGertrude Ederle (l) with co-star, Dallas native Bebe Daniels / via HA.com

by Paula Bosse

In 1926, Gertrude Ederle, a 19-year-old American, became the first woman to swim the English Channel — her time of 14 hours and 39 minutes was the fastest time ever. She became an instant international celebrity. When she returned to New York, she was given the very first ticker-tape parade, and over two million people turned out to see her.

After this momentous achievement, Ederle turned for a while to entertainment. She made a cameo appearance in a (now lost) silent film called Swim, Girl, Swim (which, incidentally, starred two Dallas natives, Bebe Daniels and James Hall), and she also toured for a while with a vaudeville company.

It was during one of these tours in April, 1927 that she arrived in Dallas, just as torrential rains began to fall. There was severe flooding along the West Fork of the Trinity, especially in the area of Record Crossing. The boat in which two young men were riding had capsized and they had been caught in the undertow and drowned. There had  been an unsuccessful search for their bodies, and I’m not sure who came up with the idea of contacting Miss Ederle, but someone did. Why NOT call in the world’s most famous swimmer to see if she could lend a hand while authorities dragged the river? Miss Ederle did, in fact, join in the underwater search, but the bodies were not found. I bet she never forgot that Dallas stop!

The news was reported in Time magazine:

trinity_bodies_time-mag_041827Time, April 18, 1927

While in town, Trudy also squeezed in a personal appearance at Sanger Bros., hawking what looks to be her own line of swimsuits.

ederle_sangers_dmn_041427-det

ederle_sangers_dmn_041427Apr. 14, 1927

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Sources & Notes

More on the Trinity River search can be found in The Dallas Morning News article “River Claims Two Victims; Gertrude Ederle Makes Vain Attempt to Recover Bodies” (DMN, April 5, 1927).

Newsreel footage of Gertrude Ederle can be seen here.

Photos of Ederle in action are here.

Ederle’s Wikipedia entry is here.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Snag Boat Dallas — 1893

snagboat_dplSnag Boat Dallas of Dallas, Trinity River (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

“Snagboat.” It’s a great word. And if you’ve taken even a glancing look into the history of the Trinity River, you’ve probably come across it. What is it? According to the Wikipedia entry, it is “a river boat, resembling a barge with superstructure for crew accommodations, and deck-mounted cranes and hoists for removing snags and other obstructions from rivers and other shallow waterways.” If you’re from Dallas, “shallow waterway” will immediately bring to mind our very own Trinity River, which, unless it’s flooding, you probably rarely even think of as being an actual river. But Dallas money-men have tried their damnedest for what seems like EVER to make the Trinity do what they wanted it to do.

In the late 19th century, a group of Dallas businessmen organized the Trinity River Navigation and Improvement Company and began to sink large sums of money into it. The goal was to make the Trinity navigable for large boats between the Gulf of Mexico and Dallas. They knew that if they could open this waterway to vessels carrying all manner of freight that they could make a lot of money. A lot.

In order to make the Trinity navigable, it first had to be cleared of all sorts of impassable debris in it, on it, over it, and along it. The stretch of the river around the soon-to-be inland port of Dallas was particularly snarled with all sorts of things making passage of large boats through its waters impossible. A snagboat was needed, and construction on the Snag Boat Dallas of Dallas began in November of 1892.

snagboat_dmn_112692Dallas Morning News, Nov. 26, 1892

The construction of the boat was followed closely in the Texas papers, and giddy ads/editorials like this one were filling the pages of Dallas newspapers.

ad-water-rates_dmn_011593DMN, Jan. 15, 1893

“Water rates” — charges for freight shipped via boat — were lower than the rates charged by railroads. Were the Trinity able to support freight traffic, this new competition would mean that railroads would lower their rates, and the savings for manufacturers and builders would  be substantial. As a result, manufacturing and building in the city would boom, and before you knew it, Dallas would become “the greatest city on Earth in the South”!

A few days before the official launch of the boat, reporters, businessmen, and the public were invited to a preview. An interesting account in The Galveston Daily News described the boat’s machinery (which included a “liquid battering ram”) and took the reader on a tour of the crew’s quarters (which had separate sleeping and dining areas for black and white crew members, per the “Separate Coach Law” of 1891).

snagboat_galveston-daily-news-021993Galveston Daily News, Feb. 19, 1893

The boat began its snagging work in February, 1893, and, in order to keep readers abreast of all Snag Boat Dallas developments, there were almost daily updates on its progress in the newspapers, and (in lieu of photographs) Dallas Morning News illustrators provided scenes of the boat’s important work.

snagboat_dmn_021293DMN, Feb. 12, 1893

snagboat_dmn_022693DMN, Feb. 26, 1893

The celebrity snagboat succeeded in clearing the debris, and in May, 1893, the steamer H. A. Harvey, Jr. arrived in Dallas, having, yes, navigated the Trinity River from the Gulf, even though it had faced two months’ worth of difficulties along the way (problematic water levels, low bridges which had to be dismantled in order for it to pass under, underwater impediments which had to be dynamited into oblivion, etc.). When it finally pulled into Dallas — accompanied by the hard-working snagboat that had paved its way — the city shut down and had a massive celebration. The Dallas Morning News went so far as to print several of its pages in red ink (!). This proof that the Trinity River was, in fact, navigable, meant that the city was on the cusp on becoming “the greatest city in the South.” The DMN (which was not shy in its almost rabid boosterism of this project) published an editorial for those Dallasites who might “not fully comprehend” the significance of why they were celebrating.

harvey-impact_dmn_052293DMN, May 22, 1893

Dallas would become an important inland port. “It can be done.”

Except that we know that it couldn’t be done. Too many other natural forces were working against the Trinity River entrepreneurs. The Harvey and the snagboat didn’t actually do much after that tumultuous reception in 1893. Sure, they moved some small loads back and forth along the Dallas stretch of the river, but that grand vision of taming the Trinity never came to pass. Even now, more than 120 years later, it still has yet to happen. Dallas has done pretty well without the Trinity River being truly navigable, but people can’t seem to stop trying to somehow monetize it. It’s probably time we just appreciated our little section of the Trinity River for what it is: a little trickle of a river that has (so far) survived everything we’ve tried to do to it in the name of “progress.”

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For closure, snagboat fans: the hard-working little Dallas had an ignominious end. It was tied to an old pier and left to rot on the water before it was eventually cannibalized and slowly picked apart. Its end came in January of 1898 when it was finally “broken up.”

rip_dmn_052897DMN, May 28, 1897

RIP, Snag Boat Dallas of Dallas — we hardly knew ye.

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The Harvey (which quietly left town when it was sold to a Louisiana company in 1898) has gotten the lion’s share of the historical attention, but the snagboat is the one that did all the work. Here are two more photos of the Dallas and its crew taking a break from snagging to pose for posterity.

snagboat_dfwurbanwildlife

The photo below shows just what the crew of the snagboat was up against. The caption was written by C. A. Keating, president of the Trinity River Navigation Company.

snagboat_keating_1890s

snagboat-caption_keating

And, finally, what prompted me to find out more about the snagboat in the first place: this ad for the Dallas Lithograph Company from the 1893 city directory. It featured an illustration of a little boat chugging along on the idyllic (and blissfully snag-free) Trinity River, with the Old Red Courthouse in the background and a little tent pitched on the bank. I wasn’t all that familiar with snagboats, but that’s what I thought it looked like. I’m sure it’s supposed to be something grander, but I’ll think of it as a snagboat anyway.

ad-dallas-lithography-co_1893-directory-det

ad-dallas-lithograph-co_1893-dir1893 Dallas directory

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Sources & Notes

I came across the top photo (which is from the archives of the Dallas Public Library) on the web page for the 99% Invisible podcast, here. I was so enthralled with the pictures on this page that I didn’t even realize until just now that there was a podcast to listen to, called “The Port of Dallas” — about this very topic! Listen to it at the top of the page — it’s very entertaining. I think Julia Barton and I were separated at birth!

There are lots of other photos on that page, including a photo of the H. A. Harvey, Jr. and a photo showing what the Dallas Morning News looked like printed in red.

Second photo of the Snag Boat Dallas is from the DFW Urban Wildlife blog, here. More great photos there!

The final photo of the Dallas and the photo’s caption are from C. A. Keating’s autobiography, Keating and Forbes Families and Reminiscences of C. A. Keating (Dallas: self-published, 1920).

All other clippings, as noted.

To read about how people have tried and tried and tried over the years to make the Trinity River do what they wanted it to do — and failed — read the article “Navigating the Trinity, A Dream That Endured for 130 Years” by Jackie McElhaney (Legacies, Spring 1991), here.

UPDATE: I swear I was completely unaware of Julia Barton’s podcast about the “Port of Dallas” when I wrote this post, but I’m happy to report there is ALSO a video, from a presentation she did at the TEDxSMU talks in October. Watch it here. (Thanks, for alerting me to that this, Julia — my “internet twin”!)

Most clippings and photos are larger when clicked. The last photo of Snag Boat Dallas is very big.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Dallas Imagined As an Inland Port

dallas-imagined-as-inland-port_reddit

by Paula Bosse

Okay, this will be my last Trinity River post for a while. This is what some clever person imagined Dallas would look like today as an inland port had anyone ever managed to make the Trinity a navigable commercial waterway between DFW and the Gulf. So there you go!

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This image was linked to a Reddit post linking to a Flashback Dallas Trinity River post. I have no idea who created this, but the image link is here. If anyone knows the source, I’d love to credit the person responsible.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

“How High’s the Water, Mama?” — 1908

trinity-river_flood_1908_LOC-lg

by Paula Bosse

A great panoramic photo by Clogenson, showing the old Commerce Street bridge partially submerged by the Trinity River (which is pretty dang high … and rising).

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Photograph by Henry Clogenson, from the collection of the Library of Congress; accessible here.

Previous Flashback Dallas posts on the Great Flood of 1908 can be found here and here. And a fantastic photo of what the Trinity looked like before it was straightened and moved is here.

And, really, you MUST hear Johnny Cash sing the pertinent “Five Feet High & Rising,” here.

Click picture for a REALLY big image.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Nellie Maurine: When a Pleasure Boat Became a Rescue Craft During the Great Trinity River Flood of 1908

nellie-maurine_diaper-daysThe Nellie Maurine (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

107 years ago today — after days and days of torrential rains — the Trinity River reached a crest of over 52 feet, and the resulting flooding caused loss of life and property and almost incalculable widespead damage on both sides of the suddenly surging river. Bridges and train trestles were washed out, cutting off any way for Dallasites or travelers heading west on trains and interurbans to get from Dallas to Oak Cliff, and vice versa. Ever the home of the entrepreneurial capitalist, the owner of one of the only large boats in the area, the Nellie Maurine, offered his water vehicle to be used as a ferry for those souls desperate to cross the river. For a price.

In September of 1906, E. L. Gale built a large boat in Dallas. It was designed to carry freight as well as passengers on pleasure trips between the “wharf” at the base of Commerce Street and the under-construction Lock and Dam No. 1 at McCommas Bluff. The boat was named after his daughters Vanelle and Maurine.

The Nelle Maurine is a model bow, flat-bottomed boat, seventy feet in length, sixteen-foot beam on the water line, and twenty feet including the guard rail. She is a propeller boat, draws twelve inches of water, and is driven by a 40-horsepower engine. In the event it be found that the engine is not of sufficient power to give the boat the required speed, it is so arranged that it can be changed to 80-horsepower with but very little trouble. With full cargo aboard, the vessel will require a depth of about thirty-three inches of water. (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 29, 1906)

nellie-maurine_dmn_092906DMN, Sept. 29, 1906 (before upper deck/pilot house had been built)

Gale envisioned great success in establishing shipyards and a wharf in Dallas. Though the much hoped-for “navigable Trinity” was still not a reality, many believed a trade route waterway between Dallas and the Gulf of Mexico was inevitable. A person could make a great deal of money by being in on the ground floor of such an industry.

The boat, initially a propeller boat which was converted to a sternwheeler in the summer of 1907, had trouble in operating along the short stretch of river with any kind of regular service — the water level was either too low or too high (when the water was high, the boat could not pass beneath the “Zang boulevard bridge”). The Nellie Maurine was often moored near a large cottonwood tree waiting for the river to cooperate. When it did cooperate, the boat was in demand as a pleasure craft, often offering moonlight treks down the river, complete with onboard dance band. The fare for a daytime round-trip to McCommas Bluff was 50¢; the privately chartered night-time cruises were likely quite a bit higher.

nellie-maurine_dmn_070409-ADAd, DMN, July 4, 1909

nellie-maurine_dmn_051308May 13, 1908 (less than two weeks before the flood)

When the Great Flood of 1908 hit on May 25, there was absolute bedlam, beginning in the middle of the night when one man set off several “dynamite bombs” one after another in order to awaken his neighbors who were unaware of the sudden and unexpected rise of the swollen river and who were in imminent danger. When Dallasites went to bed on May 24, the river was at an already high 28 feet. By 3:00 in the morning, just a few short hours later, it had risen to an incredible — and incredibly dangerous — 41.5 feet. By that afternoon it was over 51 feet, and by nightfall, it had surpassed all records and was at more than 52 feet. West Dallas and downtown were underneath water. Homes and livestock were washed away. Electricity was out. Telephones were out. Roads and railways were impassable. There was absolute panic.

For numerous reasons, people were desperate to cross the river. As all roads and bridges across the Trinity were submerged or destroyed, the only way across was by boat. The Nellie Maurine’s owner saw an opportunity to make a lot of money — by charging people to ferry them back and forth across the Trinity, something that probably rubbed people the wrong way. When city authorities asked permission to use the Nellie Maurine to survey the damage, they were rebuffed when Gale (or his captain) insisted the city pay a fee and the city refused. Dallas County Sheriff Arthur L. Ledbetter and Criminal District Judge W. W. Nelms were having none of that and seized the boat, deputizing the crew and ordering them to set off for the west bank of the river. As it turned out, the damage was far worse than anyone could have expected, and the boat was used to rescue stranded people, some of whom were pulled from treetops. (The account of this survey, titled “West Dallas Trip Proves Thrilling,” is pretty gripping — see link below.)

When the city was done with its search-and-rescue mission, it UN-seized the boat, and the Nellie Maurine began operating as a ferry again, transporting frantic people back and forth across the river. If you wanted to cross the river, you’d have to cough up one dollar — maybe even two, a hefty price to reach safety. (According to the Inflation Calculator, $1 in 1908 would be the equivalent of about $26 in today’s money). It was rumored that this ferry service was generating $1,000 a day (almost $26,000 a day in today’s money!).

nellie-maurine_dmn_052808DMN, May 28, 1908

The Nellie Maurine provided a much-needed service during the Great Dallas Flood — and they also made a substantial profit, which — depending on your business philosophy — is either ingenious or appalling.

Below, a few images of the Nellie Maurine. I’m not sure what ultimately became of her, but I have found no mention of the boat past 1910, a year before E. L. Gale died. (Click pictures for larger images.)

flood_nellie-maurine_1908a

flood_nellie-maurine_1908bTwo photos of the boat taken during the flood (the boat had lost its pilot house when it was caught under the Commerce Street bridge earlier that day). (These two “real photo postcard” images found on eBay.)

Below, a post-flood photo from 1909, showing builders and contractors onboard, about to head to Lock and Dam No. 1 to check on its progress.

nellie-maurine_dmn_022309DMN, Feb. 23, 1909 (photo by Clogenson)

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Top photo from the highly recommended book Diaper Days of Dallas by Ted Dealey.

Clippings and photos from The Dallas Morning News, as noted.

Read about the introduction of the Nellie Maurine (or the “Nelle Maurine”) to Dallas newspaper readers in an article published in The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 29, 1906, here. (The second photo above accompanied this article.)

Read the account of what was seen from the boat when it was commandeered by city officials in “West Dallas Trip Proves Thrilling,” published in the DMN on May 26, 1908, here.

Read more about the flood in these articles from The Dallas Morning News:

  • “The Trinity’s Swan Song Spree of 1908” by Gene Wallis (DMN, March 1, 1931), a hair-raising account of the havoc wreaked by the flood
  • “Riders Saw 1908 Flood From Ferry” (DMN, May 28, 1957), includes an account of S. S. Cumby, a farmboy who witnessed the flood

The Trinity River flood of 1908 was a story that made national headlines. The death-toll reports were all over the place, from 4 to “hundreds.” I think the official number of lives lost was only 4 or 5, which is pretty amazing, considering the the massive destruction caused by the flood. An interesting first-day report can be found in the Wichita (Kansas) Beacon, in a late edition from May 25, 1908, here. “Trinity Is On a Rampage” — indeed.

An incredible photo of the washed-out T & P railroad trestle can be found in a previous post here.

Stay dry, y’all!

Click pictures for larger images.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

“The Walls Are Rising” (1967): Watch It Online!

mercury-dealership-6110-lemmon_wallsDallasites love their cars…. (photo from “The Walls Are Rising”/AIA Dallas)

by Paula Bosse

Late last year I stumbled across mention of a 1967 film about Dallas called “The Walls Are Rising.” It was made by the American Institute of Architects, Dallas Chapter, and was sponsored by the Greater Dallas Planning Council as a sort of warning to the people of Dallas about the dangers of auto-centric sprawl and uncontrolled urban planning. I searched and searched for the whereabouts of the film, but it seemed to have disappeared without a trace. I contacted AIA Dallas, and after much searching, they found the film, still on an old reel. They digitized the film and screened it before a large and enthusiastic crowd in January, and after viewing the film and listening to a panel discussion, audience members launched into a lively and concerned discussion about the state of Dallas today. It turns out that most of the topics of grave concern in 1967 continue to be topics of grave concern today, almost 50 years later.

AIA Dallas has uploaded the 27-minute film to Vimeo, and it is now available for all to watch online. Made to emphasize the dangers of out-of-control urban blight brought on by an over-reliance on automobiles, a lack of green spaces, and depressing expanses of visual clutter, the film is a sardonic look at a claustrophobically “modern” Dallas. It’s a hip documentary — absolutely a product of its era — made by a filmmaker with avant-garde tendencies; imagine what an industrial film would have been like had it been made by “with-it” ad men who were given free-rein to get their message across (and who may have indulged in illicit substances during the editing phase). Not as weird as the film itself (though still plenty weird) are some of the proposals from architects and planners on ways to improve the city’s “livability.”

Best of all, though, are all the photos of the city. It’s great being able to hit “pause” and take a look at each and every 1967 photo of Dallas, from a jam-packed downtown, to a cluttered Oak Lawn, to a serene Turtle Creek.

Thanks again to AIA Dallas for finding the film and uploading this weird little slice of Dallas history!

The Walls are Rising from AIA Dallas on Vimeo.

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A few screengrabs (click for larger images):

oak-lawn_jays_esquire_walls

lee-optical_walls

sterling_walls-are-rising_1967

night_parking

state-fair-2_walls

turtle_turtle-creek_walls

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Sources & Notes

The video can be found on Vimeo here.

All photos by Ronald Perryman, from his film “The Walls Are Rising” (1967), “produced by Greater Dallas Planning Council in collaboration with Dallas Chapter of American Institute of Architects.”

The AIA Dallas website is here.

Robert Wilonsky’s Dallas Morning News blog post (May 21, 2015) on the uploading of this film is here.

My previous posts on “The Walls Are Rising” can be found here.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

One of the Victims of the Great Trinity Flood: The T & P Railroad Trestle — 1908

flood_t-p-trestle_1908_legacies“T. P. Trestle Before Break, Dallas, Tex.” (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above and below, photos of the Texas & Pacific railroad trestle spanning the Trinity River, destroyed during the great flood of May, 1908. Five people died in the flooding — in which the Trinity crested at an incredible 52.6 feet — and damage to property was unbelievable. The railroad trestle was just one of numerous victims of the worst flood Dallas has ever known.

flood_t-p-trestle_1908-postcard

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Photo from the article “After the Deluge: The Impact of the Trinity River Flood of 1908” by Jackie McElhaney (Legacies, Fall, 1999), which you can read here.

Postcard from Flickr, here.

The May 25, 1908 Trinity River flood on Wikipedia, here.

Click pictures for larger images.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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